Engagement is a Verb (and 4 Steps That Help You Drive It)

Bob Wilson, Founder and Chairman of ADVISA, writes a quarterly Chairman’s Letter. Bob’s letters skillfully incorporate his years of consulting experience into real-life stories. He writes from the heart. We hope you’ll enjoy.


An engaged employee is one who willingly gives additional discretionary effort to the work they’re charged with doing.  That’s why you want Engagement – it can be your most significant competitive advantage.  The organizational jolt of energy an engaged workforce provides is what elevates your collective performance above that of your competitors.  Or not.  It is up to you – the leadership of your business – to create an environment that yields that additional effort.  What are the specific factors you can address that encourage engaged employees?  Our research points to four critical areas where your leadership efforts can increase the odds that employees will choose to engage and bring their discretionary effort with them to work.


  1. Match People to Jobs.

Both jobs and people have personalities.  For example, some jobs require people to operate without rules, to figure things out without direction, and to take risks (for example, in operations or sales leadership roles).  Other jobs demand people avoid risks at all costs and follow the rules to the exclusion of any personal adaptation (accounting or factory execution jobs).  People can be measured along the same dimensions as can jobs.

I have a risk-oriented personality.  I’ve had two jobs where I had to follow rules exactly as they were written.  The first was a job my father got me in a factory.  I had to quit at noon the first day (as embarrassing as that was).  I couldn’t do the work.  The second was my fourth promotion in my first career post.  I had to mind details all day every day.  I got fired in 3 months.  The work wasn’t matched to who I was or am.

When people aren’t matched to jobs, engagement doesn’t happen.  Turnover does.  If you don’t use a personality assessment to help you with this, find one.  ADVISA can help.


  1. Encourage Manager / Employee Relationships.

Research shows that people join organizations and leave bosses.  Good relationships between bosses and subordinates can be fostered by several things:  self-awareness on the part of the boss, trust between the parties, and an overall organizational emphasis on the importance of building personal relationships.  People don’t necessarily have to like each other; they do need to understand and trust each other for those relationships to flourish.

Personality assessments can aid with self-awareness and thus, trust-building.  These tools allow bosses to both understand who they are and what their employees want from them.  Using the example above, risk-takers prefer managers to provide them with freedom, independence, and challenge.  People who are wired to do things perfectly want instruction and feedback and knowledge that they can accomplish what’s put in front of them.  Where bosses and subordinates are wired differently, this can lead to dissonance between the two – one just doesn’t understand why the other wants what they want – and, hence, tends not to give it to them.  Neither personality style is good or bad.  Both are needed.  But, when misunderstood, relationships can be impeded, and trust can be degraded.

Additionally, where leadership emphasizes the importance of relationships and trust in their culture (see #4 below), and demonstrates by word and action the positive impact on performance both have, relationships can be improved across the organization with the resultant boost in engagement.

Good relationships are the breeding grounds of engagement.  Where manager/employee relationships are frayed, engagement doesn’t flourish.  Turnover does.


  1. Understand the Meaning of Work / Life Balance for your Employees and Provide for it.

This area can be the source of much of the conflict between millennials (23-37) and Z’ers (under 22) on the one hand; and the older workforce on the other.  Younger people tend to want more flexibility in their work than what boomers and X’ers are sometimes willing to give.  Younger workers are looking for flexible hours, more informal/social work settings and freedom for side hustles; among other looser versions of work they prefer.  Younger workers are more than happy to be engaged and deliver the performance that results from that.  They simply want work to occur within their looser vision of how life and work should go together.

If you want engaged employees under the age of 37, it’s important to consider what work-life balance looks like in your firm from their eyes.  Is yours a place where millennials and Z’ers can get what they’re looking for?  If it’s not, you’ll have a hard time getting that discretionary zeal that they have to invest in their jobs.  They’ll turn over.  Or, they won’t even apply.  As a result, you’ll have a hard time finding the people you’ll need to replace your legacy employees and maintain the tribal knowledge necessary to carry your organization to the future.

Where leadership and employees have a different vision of work/life balance, engagement doesn’t thrive.  Frequently, the people you want most, won’t even apply.


  1. Be Purposeful about your Culture.

If you let your culture evolve without purpose, it won’t evolve the way you want it to.  Father Theodore Hesburgh from Notre Dame University said, “The very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.”  This is especially true with culture.  Decide both what you believe is valuable about your current culture and how it needs to change to accommodate the future.  Once that vision is clear, take concrete steps to take your culture where it needs to go.

A good first step in creating a purposeful culture is the development of a Values Statement.  This provides the guardrails for how the people in your business should interact with each other.  It is a great starting point for cultural transition – laying out the behaviors you believe you need to change in order to have the culture take you to where you want to go.  Remember, if or when you’re trying to change who you are as an organization, “Culture always trumps strategy.”  If your culture isn’t prepared to make the changes you want made in strategy, your attempted strategic change will fail.  You’ll need to change the culture first.  And a good first step is with the creation of a Values Statement.

Then, the work starts – by communicating what your Values mean, how they should be implemented; then, both reinforcing behaviors that are consistent with who you want to be and providing negative reinforcements to behaviors that take you in the wrong direction.  Left on its own, culture just evolves.  And as Peter Drucker said long ago, “Only three things happen naturally in organizations: friction, confusion, and underperformance.”  Determine what you want your culture to look and feel like, and then purposefully lead your organization to become exactly that.

Cultures can either facilitate engaged employees or inhibit them.  That’s why you need to be purposeful about envisioning and executing a healthy organizational culture.